Restructuring transfers many workers to jobs from hell

By Shinichi Yanagida, Mainichi Shimbun, 5 June 2001

Restructuring efforts aimed at pushing workers to quit by dumping them into a hostile or useless work environment is not the sole product of major video-game manufacturer Sega Enterprises, a group of lawyers has found.

The lawyers' group in Tokyo, which set up a company restructuring hotline at 23 locations nationwide last weekend and talked with more than 500 employees, discovered—alarmingly—that many businesses are still trying to cut down staff numbers by assigning them jobs with no meaning.

Several callers reported that their companies, as part of their restructuring tactics, ended up assigning no duties to employees.

A man in his 20s said that his firm, a major electronics manufacturer in Tokyo, appointed 30 employees to the business development division. Once there, they had nothing to do.

A similar fate befell a Miyagi Prefecture man in his 50s. His employer suddenly confined him and colleagues to a small room, about the size of two tatami mats, and gave them no job duties.

Many who reported their plight to us don't mention their company's names because they fear that their contacting us will get back to their employers, said Kaori Komatsu, a staffer of the lawyers' group.

Moves to drive workers from a firm generated headlines in April when Sega Enterprises employees who were deprived of work after refusing to relocate to a subsidiary sued the company.

Contrary to the no-job cases, a man at a major securities company in Tokyo said his company formed a new division where employees with no sales experience have been assigned sales duties, the lawyers said. The division for restructuring employees were given two choices: Come to back to the office when they had received orders or quit.

When asked by the Mainichi Daily News what advice they gave to workers who contacted the hotline, lawyer Ichiro Natsume said employees should unite with others in similar conditions.

To sue an employer is a final step. Before doing that, workers have to strengthen their bargaining power by joining labor unions, Natsume said. A worker who doesn't take such measures won't improve their own situation.

Natsume, who has periodically talked with workers over the phone about labor conditions and dismissals, added that the weekend's hotline found an increasing number of women and part-time workers contacting them.